Upon ascending to the chancellorship in 1983, Helmut Kohl famously called out to his supporters, "If you don't know how to celebrate, then you don't know how to work either." Your reaction so far has been rather more reserved. Is this more a reflection of your personality or is it the result of the difficult circumstances that have accompanied your election?
Merkel: I think it is prudent to put the celebrations on ice until after the chancellor vote (editor's note: in the German parliament.) We still have four weeks of negotiations ahead of us. The coalition is not yet finalized.
SPIEGEL: That sounds very rational, but still, haven't you felt a certain sense of satisfaction following last week's clarification that you are set to become Germany's next chancellor?
Merkel: What I feel most of all is humility. There are great expectations both at home and abroad.
SPIEGEL: It looks as though you will be Germany's first woman chancellor and the first government leader to come from East Germany. How do you gauge the significance of this double premiere?
Merkel: It seems to me that the fact that I am a woman is a bigger issue than the fact that I'm from the East. For me it isn't really important. I've only ever known myself as a woman. Of course, I'm aware of the fact that there are no female precedents for many of the rituals of power. That is about to change in Germany. If the coalition can be formed, the female factor will become the norm.
SPIEGEL: Some elements of the public see you as having a cool persona, perhaps all the more so because women are generally considered to be more emotional.
Merkel: I'm not sure what you mean by female emotionality. Maybe you adhere to the prejudice that women talk too much. Indeed, that's one bias I can't say I live up to.
SPIEGEL: It is said that women talk more and cry more than men. Isn't that the case?
Merkel: I've put those days behind me, when I was in Kohl's cabinet, many years ago. If you see me laughing and smiling pleasantly today, isn't that emotional expression as well?
SPIEGEL: It has certainly been a remarkable turnaround. Merkel the "chancellor in waiting" laughs much more frequently than Merkel the leader of the opposition.
Part Two: A Campaign of Fear?
Merkel: I wouldn't be so sure that the change is so dramatic -- perhaps you are just looking more closely now. It's not as if I switched off laughing for the past fifteen years, just to save it up for the last six months. Actually, I'm quite a cheerful and really quite gregarious person.
SPIEGEL: The story goes that the incumbent chancellor Gerhard Schröder once stood at the fence of the chancellor's office and shook it, shouting "I want to come in!" There are no such anecdotes about you, although you are said to have a strong desire for power. What drives you? Why did you want to become chancellor?
Merkel: I don't believe you are simply born with the ambition of becoming chancellor. But if you want to make a difference, if you enjoy putting ideas into practice, then the post of chancellor has to be the one presenting the biggest opportunity of all.
SPIEGEL: Do you have goals apart from your own personal ones?
Merkel: I would certainly hope so.
SPIEGEL: For example?
Merkel: I would like to see Germany back on its feet again. Our country enjoys great prosperity and a well-balanced social structure. But too many people are out of work. Our status in the world economy has deteriorated, partly due to the fact that, today, many more people around the world want their share of the spoils, to which they are perfectly entitled. Which means that we have to work hard to secure our welfare for the 21st century all over again. This is what we need to do. That is my goal.
SPIEGEL: Will you have enough room in which to operate, in charge of a tripartite coalition?
Merkel: I am absolutely determined to use the room available.
SPIEGEL: You said during the campaign, "My desire to do things in a fundamentally different way is not going to be possible in a grand coalition."
Merkel: I did say that beforehand -- but the electorate nevertheless did not choose a coalition of the CDU and the liberal FDP. Voters did though vote for a government under the leadership of the CDU. I take this result at face value.
SPIEGEL: In other words, the grand coalition will see a government program dominated by lowest common denominators?
Merkel: Not at all! It is my responsibility to make the best of this election result. I will do my utmost to make things happen. Four years is a long time: In four years time, the sum of human knowledge doubles. We cannot afford to have four years of stagnation. That would be extremely regrettable and would mean an even greater need for change thereafter.
SPIEGEL: It is debatable whether the parties have really noticed that time is running out.
Merkel: I would like to show the skeptics that they are wrong. It is the duty of both major parties to be successful. Credibility is at stake for all of us. If we fail, and the situation in four years is no better than it is now, then the major parties will be in a sorry state themselves.
SPIEGEL: So the coalition will have to last for the four year period?
Merkel: That has to be the aim, obviously. From what I have heard so far from the social democrats, they are also willing to make it work. The last legislative period was not used in its entirety. I cannot advocate entering the next one with the idea at the back of our minds that it may not go the distance either. We have to go into it with the conviction that we can bring back an element of stability to politics. That is what I want.
SPIEGEL: The prerogatives of policy making, anchored in the constitution, are already being questioned before the coalition deal has even been officially completed, by no lesser figures than the future vice chancellor Franz Müntefering and the leader of the CSU, prospective economics minister Edmund Stoiber. More than a little irritating?
Merkel: We really have moved on from that particular discussion. Besides, it is in the nature of my job to bring the different parties and their representatives together in the cabinet.
SPIEGEL: The chancellor as moderator?
Merkel: In a sense, yes, but there is much more to it than that, much more to be done. It is up to me to make clear what I want, of course. It is the responsibility of any chancellor in a coalition government to lead evenhandedly and get everyone working together. That is what I intend to do. Everyone in the partnership needs room to breathe.
SPIEGEL: Do you think that is something you can achieve? There is already a considerable amount of turbulence in the air.
Merkel: The problems we face make it imperative that we work together. It is really important to me in such a prospective government that nobody starts thinking along the lines of 'us versus them' with the Union politicians on one side celebrating their victories and the SPD members on the other hailing SPD victories. We have to engender a climate in which everyone feels responsible for the whole. I have the impression that the SPD agrees with me on that.
SPIEGEL: Are you contemplating a kind of policy-making team?
Merkel: I am not so interested in playing with the terminology as such. What we need is trust, dependability. We must celebrate each other's successes, that is the what collective success is all about.
SPIEGEL: Has Gerhard Schröder apologized to you, in particular for his conduct on election day?
Merkel: No. We have a result now, so we can get back to business. That is sufficient.
SPIEGEL: Is the way you quite consciously look forward rather than back in situations like this a form of self-protection, would you say?
Merkel: It is the only way to be. If you want to be constructive in politics, the less you look back, the better. If you do look back, then it can only be to learn for yourself through the events that have taken place.
SPIEGEL: Being thick-skinned is a prerequisite for politicians?
Merkel: You do need to have a thick skin on the one hand, but on the other you need to be sensitive in more ways than one: sensitive with regard to the people you work with and sensitive in terms of the mood of the country. In my eight years as a minister in Helmut Kohl's government, I learned that you must never get carried away. Helmut Kohl was always conscious of this: We must never forget our responsibilities as politicians to our country and its citizens. We must always remain humble before our people.
SPIEGEL: In the past few days we have heard you referring to a "coalition of fresh opportunities." What do you mean by that?
Merkel: If the coalition had been the Union plus the FDP, it would have probably been a more straightforward matter of following through with our plans. But this would also have led -- presumably -- to a greater split of opinion in the country. The great opportunity of the grand coalition is that we can get more people behind us.
SPIEGEL: When he became chancellor, Schröder set out specific goals, such as reducing unemployment figures to under three and a half million. What are your benchmarks, how can we ultimately expect to measure your four years of legislation?
Merkel: I might not name figures, but unemployment must be reduced in the coming legislative period. How the labor market develops is going to be decisive for the well-being or otherwise of this country. On the other hand, it isn't just a question of jobs at all costs. I would also like to be measured against how future technologies progress in this country, and how they can lead to secure jobs in the long-term.
SPIEGEL: In which area do you expect to see the first political breakthrough?
Merkel: Balancing the budget is absolutely essential. The instigators of the stability pact will be measured by this criterion. It will not be easy, but it can be done.
SPIEGEL: And what about federal reform?
Merkel: With a large enough parliamentary majority to effect constitutional reform, this grand coalition has to reverse the strategy of the previous one (editor's note: 1966-1969). Back then, collective decision-making among the states and the federal government was introduced. A mixed economy on this level needs to be deconstructed in order to improve state efficiency.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean by deconstruction?
Merkel: I want to see our political system accelerate again. The idea being that Germany needs to be ready to act swiftly in a world where decisions need to be taken much faster than in the past. This can only work in a system in which responsibilities are clearly delineated. If everything is interlinked, the decision making process is slowed down and at the end of the day, nobody wants to take responsibility.
SPIEGEL: In such a clearly delineated system, the electorate would also be in a better position to hit back at those responsible. Does this idea also play a role in your thinking?
Merkel: Of course. What is more, competition between German states will increase, creating a more intelligent atmosphere where they can learn from each other. Good management will prevail and others will follow. Take the example '12 years of schooling' (editor's note: instead of 13). Saxony and Thuringia were the first regions to commit to the program. At first, all of the western states opposed the idea, but now it is just a matter of time before they all adopt the same plan. If a joint decision had been necessary, the project would never have got off the ground.
SPIEGEL: But are the voters really in favor of this acceleration?
Merkel: The majority of people are aware that change is necessary. But there is a very real fear that too many will lose out as a result of change. There is also genuine concern that there may not even be a favorable outlook for our country. A lot of people are not at all sure that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. We need to work hard to rectify that.
SPIEGEL: Was your election campaign too heavily focused on fear rather than hope?
Merkel: The Union and the FDP won 1.2 million more votes than the SPD and the Greens.
SPIEGEL: You led an 'honest campaign' as you called it. One or two unpalatable truths were voiced: raising taxes and less protection against dismissal at the workplace. What conclusions have you drawn from the way people voted?
Merkel: Honesty remains the best policy, without a doubt. It is up to us as elected parties to convince people that our politics will turn global change to their advantage. Having 448 members of parliament sitting and waiting for change to come from outside would be a big mistake.
SPIEGEL: Many of your own troops seem somewhat disheartened and are calling for more attention to be paid to social justice, to a greater or lesser extent.
Merkel: There is no reasonable alternative to reform that leads to growth and employment.
SPIEGEL: Don't you get the feeling that we are currently experiencing a sort of re-socialization of the republic?
Merkel: Let us take a look at the real picture. This year, we are spending €10 billion more on unemployment benefits than in the past. Next year the figure will be even higher. And still the impression has arisen that Hartz IV (editor's note: part of the reform package introduced by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder) is somehow not socially just. There is a perception shared by some sections of the public, fostered by certain populists, which has nothing to do with the actual facts of the matter. The political task, in this case, is to explain and inform.
SPIEGEL: You mean to suggest that cuts in social welfare are just one big misunderstanding?
Merkel: At the very least, you have to differentiate. There are many recipients of social security who are better off under Hartz IV than they were before. But there are also those -- skilled and qualified tradesmen for example -- whose position is less secure than it once was. It used to be the case, if you had learned a trade and worked hard, you could consider yourself to have a secure livelihood. These groups in our population have virtually lost all confidence in their future. This breeds anxiety and it is only right that we should be discussing their situation.
SPIEGEL: You have asked a lot of your own party. Beginning with your campaign platform and then the election result. In the ensuing exploratory talks, the important ministries from a reform perspective have all gone to the SPD. How is the CDU going to maintain its identity?
Merkel: I disagree with your appraisal of the distribution of departments. We will hold the key posts of interior minister and foreign minister, whilst the department of education and the ministry of trade and industry are crucial to our aim of improving the quality of jobs. This is an area where I am committed to policies which will actually create employment, which treats the different generations fairly and which accurately reflects our sense of values.
SPIEGEL: You don't feel that it is a disadvantage that your counterparts will occupy the treasury and the social departments where the need for reform is most acute?
Merkel: No. We will find agreement on what is to be done. That is why coalition negotiations are taking place.
SPIEGEL: Why has the Union already surrendered important posts prior to negotiations?
Merkel: I haven't surrendered a thing, and now we are entering negotiations.
SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the SPD colleagues in the cabinet, whose election campaign was directed in part against their own 'Agenda 2010' reform package?
Merkel: A willingness to build up trust, a sense of realism. And I expect everyone involved to be open to solutions which may not appear in any party platform. I also have these expectations of the Union as well.
SPIEGEL: You mean the cabinet is going to be a place for discussion and collective contemplation, you think?
Merkel: I would not want us to go into the four weeks of negotiation acting as if we already know everything we need to know, with all our plans ready made. That would not be conducive to setting an active process in motion for the next four years.
SPIEGEL: Better not to cast everything in concrete too early?
Merkel: Some things we need to negotiate precisely and others will be better served by a degree of openness. We should be prepared to take a look around, examine what other models there are, and see how others are reacting to the challenges of our age. After all, we have four years, if the coalition can be established. I hope we can create a climate in which we are not afraid to grasp new ideas.
SPIEGEL: The last cabinet was, towards the end, a school of vanity, dominated by egos indulging in public battles. What kind of leadership do you have in mind?
Merkel: I would think a more companionable style. Inevitably, there will be someone aiming for the limelight.
SPIEGEL: Edmund Stoiber, perhaps?
Merkel: The fact that the leader of the CSU is a member of this government can only add to its stability.
SPIEGEL: But will he also be expected to adhere to cabinet discipline?
Merkel: Cabinet discipline applies to everybody, if this government materializes. But let us not get ahead of ourselves.
SPIEGEL: Joschka Fischer once said the office changes the politician more than the politician changes the office. Do you see a danger for yourself in his words?
Merkel: I intend to carry on cooking potato soup and living a normal life. I intend to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground. So the proposed office in question will not change me completely. But it would be equally incorrect to assume it won't change me at all.
SPIEGEL: Have you felt trepidation creeping in these past few days?
Merkel: No. I'm not afraid, I am alert and excited, but not in the slightest bit anxious. I am immune to the seduction of power; at least I think I am.
SPIEGEL: Frau Merkel, thank you for the interview.
Interview conducted the Spiegel editors Ralf Neukirch, Gabor Steingart and Stefan Aust.
Translated from the German by Gareth Davies